Misleading claims on DCD levels in Milk Powder

Misleading Social

Food quality standard issues, especially issues related to milk products are familiar to Sri Lankans. The 2008 Chinese milk scandal, which involved milk adulterated with melamine and the 2013 Fonterra recall of milk products on a global scale are two instances, which come to our minds instantly. Fonterra incident impacted locally as well; with instances of Dicyandiamide (DCD) found in Fonterra’s milk products were above permissible levels in test samples, as per the local authorities (ITI), leading to withdrawal of certain stocks from Sri Lankan market.

A letter claimed to be from Medical Faculty Student’s Union of University of Colombo from 2013 has gained lot of traction over the past few days. From our investigation revelated that these posts shared in present day context about DCD contamination in milk power is misleading. Even though ITI had tested Fonterra along with 3 other dairies mid-2013, all subsequent tests done by number of other parties including ITI itself had confirmed that there was no DCD contamination.

Social Media Posts:

These posts which tend to get shared every once in a while with the theme “Do not poison your child with your own hands.” is seen again as shown below.

Facebook | Archived

However this letter was dated 08th August 2013 and was addressed to Media Director. The addressee’s organization was not mentioned and also there was no signatory party. The viral letter mentioned brands such as Anchor, Diamond and Maliban (Full Cream) as carrying excessive quantity of Dicyandiamide (DCD) and locally manufactured Highland and Pelawatta brands did not contain DCD according to a secret report from Industrial Technological Institute (ITI) of Sri Lanka.

We received a number of fact check requests about these posts from our readers and considering the viral nature of the story we decided to do a fact check on this. Below is the updated version of our fact check done in December 2019.

Fact Check 

Dicyandiamide (DCD), is a chemical compound used by farmers to reduce the negative effects of greenhouse gas emission and nitrates leaching into waterways. As per reports, some have even used DCD to grow pastures for grazing cows. 

On 24th January 2013, dairy company Fonterra announced the suspension of its products following the discovery of ‘very low levels’ of DCD in test samples of dairy products. This was followed by assurances from Fonterra and the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) about the safety of milk, citing trade as the reason for the intervention. “There is no internationally agreed ‘safe limit’ for the chemical. Therefore, buyers expect products to be completely free of it” MPI had stated in 2013 regarding the DCD scare.

chemistryworld.comArchived Link

However, we checked the news reports published in 2013 related to above claim and found that most of the mainstream media had reported an incident related to Fonterra (Anchor) brand. Daily Mirror online had quoted Industrial Technology Institute and had published the following article stating “Harmful chemical found in four milk powder brands: Report”

Daily Mirror LinkArchived Link

The article mentioned that an official from Technology and Research Ministry had stated that tests carried out by them had confirmed four brands of imported milk powder were indeed contaminated with DCD (Based on a report by ITI) and two brands of locally manufactured milk powder were free of DCD. Most of other news reports in 2013, had carried similar stories.

As per the Reuters report, Fonterra had disputed the testing methods of Industry Technology Institute. However, Fonterra had complied to the order of the government of Sri Lanka by withdrawing two batches of imported milk powder.

FT articleReuters ArticleSunday Observer

Meanwhile Industrial Technology Institute had also released a press statement confronting Fonterra’s stand that ITI is not equipped do these tests. They had stated that ITI possess the necessary knowhow and facilities to check contamination of milk powder with DCD.

Hiru News ArticleArchived Link

However, in order to get the view of ITI regarding this matter we contacted a senior official at the Food Technology Section. We learnt that the test of milk powder brands in the market were carried out as per a request of then Minister of Technology and Research, Patali Champika Ranawaka, as there was a global scare for DCD levels at that time, and the results were similar to the ones produced in the claimed letter and were even par with the tests done in New Zealand.

The official went on to state that there were number of sample tests of Fonterra and other daily brands (both local and foreign) since 2013 and all resulted DCD in permissible levels. The official went on to say that DCD test reports of 2013 are really out of context in current scenario, as no DCD has been detected in milk brands recently. However, along with Ministry of Health ITI continues to test the DCD level in milk powder and annually around 250-300 samples are being tested even in current scenario.

We noticed that there were several incidents against Fonterra by Public Health Inspectors on suspicion of DCD contamination (i.e. Mahara incident in November 2013) taken to courts as well and these were later on dismissed based on the tests carried out on the sealed stocks. Below is the report issued by Ministry of Health in November 2013, confirming the tests were free from DCD and requesting PHI’s to remove any temporary ban of Fonterra dairy products.

Ministry of Health Statement in November 2013

To get the views from the Ministry of Health regarding this situation we contacted a senior official from the food control unit from the Ministry of Health. We understood that there were indeed disputes in many quarters about the ITI tests carried out in 2013, as there was less information about DCD contamination test levels and the proper test methodology to be implemented. The best thing to come out of the whole exercise was the lab facilities were equipped with better testing facilities, to provide results that are more accurate. Ministry of Health later on carried out tests on Fonterra samples and found that they were free from DCD which is confirmed from the above statement in November 2013 as well.

Furthermore, we noticed that this claim of DCD along with claims of presence of pork fat and palm oil adulterants have resurfaced several times in the past as well and most recently around Feb-March 2019.

Since, there were no recent incidents of DCD issues in any of the mainstream media over the past year; we contacted Fonterra, to get their view on this matter. 

We observed that Fonterra obtained a certificate from ITI in 2014 confirming that their products were free of dicyandiamide (DCD) as well. (We inspected the certificate)

In addition, Fonterra had issued a press release for reassuring the quality of their products earlier in the year (Feb 2019) following these re-occurring allegations.

Ada Derana ArticleArchived LinkFonterra Notice

According to this, imported milk powder carries a pre-shipment health certificate by New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries to ensure that high quality is maintained.  On arrival shipment is subjected to tests by Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Board, Sri Lanka Standards Institute and Industrial Technology Institute on the behest of Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka for adulteration by vegetable or animal fat and harmful contamination.  

On 7th of February 2019, Ministry of Health has released a press release signed by Acting Director General of Health Dr. Mrs. S.C. Wickramasinghe to quell the rumours about contamination of imported milk powder. We checked the website of Ministry of Health and found the following statement. Given below is the copy of the release


Their conclusion was that based on pre shipment testing done at the exporting country and tests carried out by Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Board, Industrial Technology Institute and Sri Lanka Standards Institute imported milk powder is not adulterated with vegetable fat and animal fat and safe for consumption.

We cross checked the German test reports for Anchor, which confirmed the Ministry of Health statement. 

German Test Result (Muva Kempton Laboratory)


From our investigation it was clear that even though ITI had tested Fonterra dairy products along with 3 other dairies mid-2013, all subsequent tests done by number of other parties including ITI itself had confirmed that there was no DCD contamination in Fonterra dairy products since then. There is dispute about the test methodology of the DCD positive test carried out by ITI in 2013 as well, however all these are out of context since there had not been any incident of DCD contamination since then.  Hence we can conclude that these reports being circulated in present day context are misleading the public.


Title:Misleading claims on DCD levels in Milk Powder

Fact Check By: Sathyajith Subasinghe 

Result: Misleading

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